The Kathy and Joe Sanderson Tower will celebrate it's first birthday on Nov. 2.
The Kathy and Joe Sanderson Tower will celebrate it's first birthday on Nov. 2.
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The First Year: Kathy and Joe Sanderson Tower to celebrate milestone this fall

Published on Wednesday, October 20, 2021

By: Annie Oeth, aoeth@umc.edu

Note: This article originally appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of Under the Rainbow, the semi-annual magazine for Children's of Mississippi.

More than 6,400 surgeries in state-of-the-art operating rooms. 

More than 720 babies who grew healthy inside neonatal intensive care rooms designed around family bonding. 

Pediatric intensive care provided to more than 691 ill and injured children inside larger and more advanced spaces. 

Outpatient visits inside specialty clinics created for collaborative care numbering more than 29,787. Imaging services including more than 4,211 MRIs, more than 3,223 CT scans and more than 31,000 X-rays were provided in a way that’s less intimidating for young patients.

These are some of the thousands of reasons Children’s of Mississippi has to celebrate this Nov. 2, the first anniversary of the opening of the Kathy and Joe Sanderson Tower. 

“The Kathy and Joe Sanderson Tower did not get the opening celebration we all wanted to have because of COVID-19 precautions,” said Guy Giesecke, CEO of Children’s of Mississippi. “While we are still fighting COVID-19 and its variants, we want to recognize the dramatic changes that the opening of the Sanderson Tower brought.”

Opened to patients Nov. 2, 2020, the seven-story children’s hospital tower has had limited visitation to prevent the spread of COVID-19. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held with limited attendance Oct. 13. The ceremony was shown on Facebook Live.

“The ribbon-cutting for the Sanderson Tower was a special day, but we celebrate the impact this tower is making in the health care of Mississippi’s children every day,” said Dr. Mary Taylor, Suzan B. Thames Chair, professor and chair of pediatrics. “The Sanderson Tower matches the world-class skills of our pediatric health care professionals, and it is designed to meet the needs of patients and their families.”

A dozen advanced surgical suites are part of the Kathy and Joe Sanderson Tower at Children’s of Mississippi.
A dozen advanced surgical suites are part of the Kathy and Joe Sanderson Tower at Children’s of Mississippi.

Neonatal intensive care

One of the most dramatic changes in the state's only children’s hospital has been in its neonatal intensive care unit. Until November 2020, the state’s smallest and most critically ill babies were in a bay-style NICU built for 30 – but there were about three times that number there.

Today, the NICU floors of Sanderson Tower are home to 88 private rooms where parents can stay with their babies.

“The difference is incredible,” said Dr. Mobolaji Famuyide, chief of newborn medicine. “Having private neonatal intensive care rooms and a larger space has dramatically changed the care experience for babies and their families.”

Parents can stay with their babies as these critically ill infants heal and grow and are part of their babies’ care team. There’s space inside each of the 88 rooms for babies for physical or occupational therapy to help them develop. 

“We had good outcomes from our older NICU space, but now we have a facility that matches the skills of our neonatology team,” she said. “Our babies have the space where they can benefit from the latest advancements in newborn care.”

One of the most striking differences between the two NICUs is how quiet and roomy the new NICU floors are. The earlier NICU had rows of babies in Isolettes, each with monitors. 

“Studies have shown that quieter surroundings help these young babies grow and develop,” Famuyide said. “Our new NICU area has a lower noise level that helps these babies – and their parents – get the rest they need.”

Pediatric intensive care

Jessica Carter holds her daughter Lyndsey Lee Carter inside a private neonatal intensive care rooms.
Jessica Carter holds her daughter Lyndsey Lee Carter inside a private neonatal intensive care rooms.

Before the opening of the Kathy and Joe Sanderson Tower and its floor of larger private pediatric intensive care rooms, critically ill children were in a ward with rooms that were not large enough to accommodate care team members, medical equipment and their parents. 

Now patients and their families are in larger rooms with more privacy and enough room for medical professionals to provide life-saving care.

“It’s been a dramatic change,” said Dr. Jennifer Hong, associate chief medical officer for Children’s of Mississippi. Having served as medical director of the Pediatric Critical Care Unit in the Blair E. Batson Tower prior to the opening of the Sanderson Tower, Hong has witnessed the changes first-hand. 

“The opening of the pediatric intensive care unit in the Sanderson Tower has given our care teams the room they need to provide life-saving care to patients,” she said. “Patients’ families have space to stay with their children and have more privacy. The new area is better for everyone, especially our patients.”

Surgical care

The 12 new state-of-the-art surgical suites of the Sanderson Tower couldn’t have come at a better time, said Dr. Bibhuti Das, professor of pediatric cardiology and director of the children’s heart transplant program at the Children’s Heart Center. 

By August, surgeons had performed four pediatric heart transplants at Children’s of Mississippi, a UMMC record. 

Surgeons now have more space to perform procedures ranging from rare to routine, those involving a hospital stay as well as outpatient procedures.

“In regard to the OR space, we are now working in a palace,” said pediatric surgeon Dr. Michael Morris. “There is ample space for all the providers, and most
importantly, we are no longer working within a ward system in preop and ASU. Each patient and family has their own room for preop and ASU.  This affords patient family conversations with the privacy we would all want. Conversations with parents are now easily done in one of two consultation rooms off the main waiting area rather than in a crowded room or hall.”

Morris said the new spaces are family- and child-friendly. “The new space has an inviting aesthetic that doesn’t feel as imposing to my patients,” he said. “Combine the aesthetics with our child life colleagues present in the periop area, and we are now able to deliver tailored pediatric preoperative care. My kids seem less stressed as we roll back to the OR!”

Dr. Sarah Jones checks the ears of Theodore Watts of Morton during his visit to the Sanderson Tower’s specialty clinics.
Dr. Sarah Jones checks the ears of Theodore Watts of Morton during his visit to the Sanderson Tower’s specialty clinics.

Larger surgical suites “seem to be double the size of our prior rooms,” he said. “We have new endoscopic equipment, which is top of the line and allows us to perform functions we could not before the Sanderson Tower opened. Additionally, the extra space in the OR allows for our radiology colleagues to seamlessly assist in cases where this was more difficult in our older, smaller rooms.” 

Architects and staff put a great deal of thought into the plans for the facility to help maximize efficiency, Morris said, “but I selfishly enjoy the windows. This has brightened the OR and patient experience. A little sunlight goes a long way.”

The most significant difference between the time before the Sanderson Tower opened and now is the potential for growth with the larger footprint. 

“The most valuable resource we have at UMMC and Children’s of Mississippi is the outstanding workforce. We now have the space for team members to work as we provide care across all surgical disciplines.”

Clinical care

Outpatient specialty clinics inside the Sanderson Tower were designed to streamline visits. From easy-to-use check-in kiosks to being located near imaging, lab and testing areas, the new clinics are convenient for parents and built for collaboration. 

Office areas in clinical areas are open, giving specialists as well as residents and fellows room to discuss patients’ conditions and collaborate to find medical solutions.

“Our new clinic area in the Sanderson Tower has had a huge impact on the care of our congenital heart families,” said Dr. Jennifer Shores, a pediatric and fetal cardiologist. “We can now do all our testing including echo, EKG and exercise test in the same area as our physician clinic visits. For our children with complex cyanotic heart disease, this makes it so much easier for both the patient and the family.”

Shores said the clinical areas operate more efficiently inside the new space. “This helps the visits be shorter, but it also has significantly decreased the wait time to get an appointment with one of our cardiologists. From a staffing standpoint, having our whole team together has made interactions much easier as well, with improved teaching for our fellows, residents and medical students and improved communication with our support staff. It has also been very nice to come to work in such a beautiful setting.”

Children's of Mississippi patient Evan Stringer of Columbia watches as his mother, Makayla Stringer, checks him in for a clinic visit via easy-to-use kiosks.
Children's of Mississippi patient Evan Stringer of Columbia watches as his mother, Makayla Stringer, checks him in for a clinic visit via easy-to-use kiosks.

Pediatric specialties in the Sanderson Tower’s clinics include cardiology, pulmonology, complex care, endocrinology, psychology, cardiovascular surgery, allergies and immunology, genetics, neurology, urology and infectious diseases.

“The impact of the new facilities starts with driving up to the hospital,” Morris said. “We have a new and inviting façade as you approach Children’s of Mississippi. It’s aesthetically pleasing and welcoming. A covered walkway from our own garage is a great asset to help families get children in and out of the hospital.  Our families are now protected from rain or sunshine as they walk into appointments. Once patients and parents enter ut all the colors and art throughout the atrium. It’s a well-lit, open, and inviting space as you enter the facility.”

Pediatric imaging

New to Children’s of Mississippi is the pediatric imaging center at the Sanderson Tower. Designed to be a less threatening imaging experience for children, the center includes a CT scanner that looks like a giant sandcastle and two MRI machines, one styled to be a lighthouse. The other is a pirate ship.

"There’s no basis for comparison,” said Ashley Jones Burns, director of imaging services at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. “Before the Sanderson Tower opened, we didn’t have an imaging area designed for children.”

Instead, Children’s of Mississippi patients had been getting imaging such as MRIs and CT scans in the adult hospital.

“The machines were not child-friendly,” Burns said. “The waiting rooms were not child-friendly. There wasn’t pediatric-centered care, from a facilities standpoint.”

Now children are getting the imaging services they need – ultrasounds, CTs, MRIs, X-rays and fluoroscopy – in a space that’s built to put them and their families more at ease.

“This has greatly reduced the need for sedation, which is better for the children,” Burns said. 

Gracious gifts

To help pay for the Sanderson Tower’s construction, Kathy and Joe Sanderson launched the Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi with a $10 million personal donation.

Since then, philanthropists from around Mississippi and across the country have donated funds to the capital campaign. Since its 2016 inception, the Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi has raised more than 88 percent of its $100 million goal. 

“The generosity of our donors is truly inspiring,” said Meredith Aldridge, executive director of development at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. “Each gift to the Campaign for Children's of Mississippi has been from the heart, and every gift helps bring us closer to our goal.” 

Celebrate with Us!

Penny Gilbert, chief of care coordination at UMMC, said she toured the Sanderson Tower when first visiting the campus.

“I was walking around gasping in awe,” she said. “This is such a beautiful children’s hospital, and it’s so patient-centric and family-centric.”

Now, as Mississippi continues to fight COVID-19, it’s time to celebrate the Kathy and Joe Sanderson Tower, Giesecke said. 

“We want the families of Mississippi to know that Children’s of Mississippi, its Sanderson Tower and Batson Tower, and its clinics around the state, is for them and for the health of their children,” he said.